The joys and freedom of learning to ride a bike as a child are memories that cyclists will cherish forever. Celebrating the launch of the latest HOY kids’ range, and in partnership with British Cycling’s Go-Ride programme, Sir Chris Hoy led a session at Herne Hill Velodrome sharing his tips and tricks to encourage more kids to take to the saddle.
A YouGov survey commissioned by Evans Cycles, has revealed that one in five (19%) parents in Britain have a child who cannot ride a bike. Additionally, among parents in London, this figure rises to nearly one in four (22%).
The survey also revealed safety concerns, such as a third (32%) of adults would not allow their kids to ride a bike unsupervised, despite 84% of adults recalling they were allowed to ride by themselves when they were aged 10 to 15. Sharing similarities with the values of the HOY kids’ range development team, the parents regularly referred to the ‘four F’s’ when asked what cycling meant to them – Fresh Air, Fun, Freedom and Fitness.
It’s never too late to enjoy the these benefits (and many more!) of cycling, so let’s take a look at Sir Chris’ top 10 tips and tricks for teaching your children to ride.
1 – Location
To begin, it’s ideal to find a quiet space with a flat surface to practice in. The idea of learning to ride on a grass surface may seem sensible with its softer landing should your rider fall of their bike, but its uneven surface will actually create more difficulty to cycle on – a large concrete space is the best place to start so your child can gain some momentum and understand how the bike reacts to their body movements.
2 – Ditch the pedals
A common assumption is that learning to ride is best suited with stabilisers or training wheels. However, this will give the rider a sense of ‘wrong balancing’ when they eventually try to apply their skills to a normal bike. To fully understand the importance of weight distribution, handlebar movements and a more authentic ‘bike feeling’, it’s recommended your child starts off with a balance bike such as the HOY Napier. Alternatively, you can take the pedals off and lower the saddle off a typical bike to create the same situation of basic control.
3 – Bike setup
Fit is always the most important aspect when it comes to any bike. Especially with kids’ bikes fit is even more crucial because, if a child’s bike doesn’t fit well, the experience could potentially put the rider off cycling for life. Lightweight bikes with child friendly components like the HOY kids’ range will make learning an easier process for children. Set the saddle at a height where they can rest the balls of their feet on the ground. Making the transition from having their feet flat on the ground to the balls of their feet may feel daunting to them to begin, but will provide an optimum position for them once they begin pedalling and steering with more confidence.
4 – Balance
If your child has experienced learning with a balance bike, they may be more confident with this skill. However, it’s still a great idea to get them used to a slightly elevated cycling position without pedalling. Set them off in a quiet, large, concrete space to gain some momentum and roll on their bike without using the pedals.
5 – Braking
Walking alongside the bike while testing the brakes is a safe process for your child to understand the reaction of their bike brakes. They will be able to practice how firmly they need to grip the levers when wanting to bring their bike to a halt. Once they progress to practicing this while riding, it should be emphasised that they should put their feet down when wanting to brake and stop their movement.
6 – Supporting your child
Naturally, you won’t want to see your child topple off their bike – rather than holding their saddle or handlebars, hold them underneath their armpits so that you can gently lean your rider one side and another to show how steering and balance are related. This will give you more control over any potential crashes, while letting your child understand how the bike naturally moves underneath them.
7 – Assisting riding
When assisting your child, pay attention to their pedalling. If they stop pedalling, then stop pushing. This will ensure they learn the association between pedalling and movement naturally.
8 – Pedalling
When your child is progressing from understanding the balancing of their bike to the incorporating pedalling, ensure that when they want to start their ride from a standstill, their pedal crank is rotated to just below the down tube (10 or 11 o’clock if looking at the left-hand crank; 1 or 2 o’clock if looking at the right-hand crank). Ask them to push off with their strongest foot, before lifting their standing leg – this may take a few attempts to master!
9 – Progress
Once your child is pedalling comfortably and gaining more confidence, set them tasks such as riding to certain points before braking. Once they master this, challenge them with riding in ‘S’ bend patterns – place cones or jumpers on the floor and ask your rider to weave between them – you can bring the cones closer together as they improve.
10 – Awareness
Even though your child will be focusing on their newly acquired skills, emphasise they keep their heads up and not look down at their pedalling motion. It’s also a good idea for when you integrate their rides into groups that they should be aware of their surroundings before halting their brakes suddenly.